For the second consecutive meet, the Northern Illinois University gymnastics team posted one of its highest score in school history as the Huskies concluded the regular season on the short end of a 196.175-195.000 score at No. 22 Arizona State.
In scoring 195.000 Friday night, just one week after tallying a 195.100 mark in winning the EMU Eagle Invitational, the 2014 Huskies became the first NIU team to reach a 195 score twice in the same season. The 195.000 total ranks as the fourth-highest team score in school history.
NIU concludes the regular season with an 8-8 overall record, while Arizona State heads to the PAC 12 Championships with an 8-6 season record.
Huskies’ head coach Sam Morreale was pleased that NIU will be able to carry the momentum of back-to-back 195s into the MAC Championships next weekend in Ypsilanti, Mich.
“It’s what we’ve been trying to do all year,” Morreale said.
“We’ve been trying to build, we’ve been trying to peak, we’ve been trying to gel and all those things are happening, plus we’re starting to get some respect. I think we’re in a prime position to go into the MACs and surprise some people. Now going 195 two weeks in a row, we know we can do it. It’s hard to score on the road so I’m proud of how we fought for every tenth. All in all, I’m ecstatic with the 195. We stepped up to the challenge.”
NIU’s Kim Gotlund will bring fond memories of Tempe back to DeKalb as the Huskie senior compiled a career-best score of 39.075 in the all-around, breaking the 39-point barrier for the first time this season and topping her previous career high of 39.025 set in 2013.
The Wadsworth, Ill. native put together four excellent routines as she tied her career-high on vault with a 9.800 to tie for fifth on the event, scored a 9.725 on uneven parallel bars and closed out the meet with 9.775s on both floor exercise and balance beam. Gotlund hit 9.800 on vault for the first time since March 24, 2012.
“She’s just a steady, steady gymnast,” Morreale said. “She just keeps going. It wasn’t even her best meet. She personifies everything I’m trying to build here. Kids with work ethic, who understand the team concept, who hit their stuff and do everything they’re asked to do.”
Olsen scored a 9.850 to win vault for the sixth time this season, leading the Huskies to a team score of 48.725 on the event. Melendez’ 9.825 to win uneven parallel bars helped the Huskies to their second-highest bars score of the season with a 48.525. Lauren Africano (Bourbonnais, Ill./Community HS) tied her season-best with a 9.775 to take fifth place.
“We have gymnasts on this team who are good enough to compete at the highest levels,” Morreale added. “It’s nice to see Jae and Megan get recognized for the talent and be able to score where they deserve to be scored.”
The Huskies’ momentum continued to build on floor exercise as NIU’s floor squad combined for the best team score of the year, a 48.875. All six Huskie gymnasts scored a 9.700 or higher on floor exercise, led by Amanda Stepp (Lapeer, Mich./Lapeer East HS) and Peyton Taylor (Bloomington, Ill./Normal University HS), who tied for fourth with matching 9.825s.
With a second straight 195 score in sight, NIU needed a solid night on balance beam and they got it. Each of the first five Huskies hit their routines, led by a spectacular effort from Olsen who scored a career-best 9.850 to take fourth place on the event.
Freshman Megan Greenfield (Crystal Lake, Ill./Crystal Lake South HS) and Gotlund each contributed a 9.775 as the Huskies matched their floor exercise total with a 48.875. That total was compiled without either of its beam “anchors” – seniors Natasha Jufko (Spring Hill, Fla./Pasco-Hernando HS) and Melendez – nearing their best marks.
“They believe in themselves and believe in the program and the training and they’re getting comfortable (with the pressure),” Morreale said. “They are excited about being able to do that and finish like that. It’s hard to do, especially on the road.”
The Mid-American Conference Gymnastics Championships are scheduled for Saturday, March 22, at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich. beginning at 2 p.m. (CT).
For more information on NIU gymnastics and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.